As associations representing cities across Minnesota, we share concern that “Affordable housing unchained” (April 8) provides a one-sided and misleading view of affordable housing and cities’ roles and responsibilities.
City officials are responsible for identifying and addressing local housing needs in their own communities, and promoting housing types best suited to address their specific needs. That work can involve lot sizes, housing for an aging population, workforce housing, racial disparities in housing or preserving naturally occurring (unsubsidized) affordable housing.
Cities are also responsible for ensuring the structural soundness, safety, quality and livability of the community’s housing stock.
Each community is different, and cities make decisions based on what works best for their residents. This principle is a hallmark of Minnesota local government.
Those responsibilities are managed through thoughtful and transparent administration of land-use planning, zoning ordinances, code enforcement, rental licensing and subdivision regulations, as well as building permits and building inspections.
Fees on new development exist to ensure that costs to the city to properly manage the public portion of development projects are not passed entirely on to existing homeowners and businesses. State law currently requires that city planning and zoning fees “must be fair, reasonable, and proportionate and have a nexus to the actual cost of the service for which the fee is imposed.”
New housing development creates the need for additional infrastructure, such as water towers and wastewater and stormwater pipes. Additionally, amenities such as city parks and recreation programs and services are attractive to new (and all) residents. Growing and redeveloping cities recover these costs from developers to ensure that growth — to the extent it can — pays for itself. Rather than putting the primary financial burden on current city residents, some cities choose to have new development pay its fair share; other cities may choose to spread this cost across other taxpayers.
Whatever the choice, each city is in the best position to make this locally responsive policy decision. The majority of builders and developers are experienced and smart; they know what they are getting into when working in a city.
Housing affordability is one important piece of a complex system with many stakeholders, perspectives and cost drivers. Peter Coyle opines that the solution to affordable housing is primarily on the backs of state and local government. This is simply a false premise.
Real solutions require a partnership between the public-private sectors. Our cities understand this and perform their important role in the best interests of residents and local communities. It is time that all stakeholders sit down and search for equitable solutions across the board; only in this way will we address the obstacles to affordable housing.
David J. Unmacht is executive director, League of Minnesota Cities. Patricia Nauman is executive director, Association of Metropolitan Municipalities (Metro Cities). Dave Smiglewski is mayor of Granite Falls and president, Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. Jill Sletten is executive director, Minnesota Association of Small Cities.